No-sweat Romney turns up the heat in Wisconsin

Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 01:00

With Obama away at the G20 summit, his Republican rival has gone on the offensive, visiting several towns on a bus tour and claiming he will win Wisconsin, writes LARA MARLOWEin Janesville, Wisconsin

MITT ROMNEY laid claim to Wisconsin yesterday, 13 days after Republican governor Scott Walker triumphed over the Democrats and labour activists who tried to recall him for ending the right of public-sector unions to negotiate their contracts.

US president Barack Obama took Wisconsin by 14 percentage points in 2008. The midwestern state has voted Democratic in the last five presidential elections, and was not even considered a swing state until Walker’s victory.

“President Obama had just put Wisconsin in his column,” the Republican candidate told hundreds of supporters at a rally in the Monterey Mills textile factory. “But you know what? We’re going to win Wisconsin. We are going to get to the White House.”

Obama has endured a series of setbacks in recent weeks, and had to attend the G20 summit in Mexico, so it was a good time for Romney to go on the offensive, visiting small towns in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan – all states that Obama won in 2008 – on an old-fashioned bus tour that will end tonight.

Janesville, population 60,000, provided the perfect backdrop for Romney’s theme that Obama has thwarted economic recovery. The General Motors lorry factory shut down in 2009 and moved to Mexico, taking 4,700 jobs. Residents say crime and drug abuse have exploded.

Janesville’s favourite son, congressman Paul Ryan, author of the controversial Ryan plan which would lower taxes by shredding the US’s social safety net, accompanied Romney.

Ryan’s family emigrated to Wisconsin during the Famine, and own large tracts of farmland around Janesville.

June 5th – the day Walker rebuffed the attempted recall – was the precursor to November 6th, the presidential election, Ryan said. “We, along with a handful of other states, will determine the future of this country . . . We want a safety net that gets people back on their feet; not a hammock that lulls them into complacency.”

Romney is vetting potential running mates on the bus tour. Ryan and Walker have been mentioned as possible choices, and Walker, too, spoke at yesterday’s rally. He is Wisconsin’s 45th governor, Walker noted. Romney will be the US’s 45th president, he predicted.

Walker shared Ryan’s obsession with ending what they see as the freeloading fostered by Democrats. “We need a leader who understands that success is not determined by how many people depend on government,” Walker said.

Women fanned themselves with campaign pamphlets inside the sweltering factory. Ryan wiped his face with a handkerchief. Perspiration stained the shirts of his Republican cohorts, but Romney, immaculate in his jeans and white shirt, didn’t sweat. He noticed water dripping from the ceiling and drew hearty laughter from the crowd – a rare feat for Romney – when he said: “It’s so hot in here the building is sweating.”

The audience was hemmed in by bails of fuzzy pads like those used to soak up the oil spill on the Gulf coast two years ago – appropriately, since Romney vowed to build a pipeline from Canada that Obama has blocked “if I have to build it myself”.

Romney’s stump speech combines jibes against Obama with promises of lower taxes and more jobs. Obama’s 2008 slogan of “Hope and Change” has become “We hope to change the subject”, Romney said. “He’s a very eloquent person. He tells you day is night and night is day.”

Few Americans had the patience to listen to Obama’s 53-minute address on the economy last week, which Romney has turned into a joke. “It’s like reading the [more than 2,000-page] Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Romney agreed with Obama on one thing though: “Everyone in America deserves a fair shot.”

Romney went through a litany of Americans – students, businessmen, veterans – ending each example with the words: “Are they getting a fair shot?”

Deanna and Ron Cox, retired and in their mid-70s, live on $2,200 (€1,749) in monthly government benefits. They fear they’ll lose that under the Ryan plan, but nonetheless support cutbacks to entitlements. “Our children are prepared for retirement without any social help,” Mrs Cox said. “Barack Obama has gone about it in the wrong way. He’s looking for the vote of immigrants and the lower class; he’s not looking for the vote of productive people. The founding fathers were wealthy people – the 1 per cent of their day.”

Obama, Mrs Cox continued, “is not leading in a God-fearing way. He’s pushing more for socialism. God wants us to work for a living. I don’t think God wants us to sit back and ask for a handout.”

These conservative, ageing Wisconsonites would have voted for Romney in any case. Far more worrying for Obama are men like Matt Soleyn (25), who voted for Obama in 2008 but now leans towards Romney. Soleyn lost his job in information technology three months ago, because his employer was downsizing.

“Obama promised he would keep unemployment down,” he said. “I’m disappointed because he didn’t keep that promise.”